Hi, welcome back to my writing room. It ain’t pretty or perfect, but you’re welcome to hang out to watch the process. Just don’t tell me not to be angry, because I don’t buy that shit that we shouldn’t be angry. And don’t tell me not to air my dirty laundry, because I’ll air whatever the fuck I feel like airing. And whatever you do, don’t tell me to “grieve it and go.” I am not in mourning. I haven’t lost anything. Rather I recovered something. Because I am not writing this while living under a lean-to behind a dumpster, people. I am not pissed at my best friend Grant Henry because he became successful and I didn’t – because I am successful. I founded Shocking Real Life, the largest independent writing school in the Southeast that regularly pumps out successful bloggers (the hugely successful Caleb Spivak, of WhatNowAtlanta.com is an alum of our blogging course), and bestselling authors (alum Christal Presley recently sold the film rights to her first book), my fifth book came out last year, I’m a professional travel expert for NBC and the Dr. Oz show and I get to fly all over the world, and even better, I get to take my daughter with me. So no, I’m not pissed at Grant Henry for his success, I’m pissed at Grant Henry for turning into an evil fucking clown.
In short, I made it out. But while I was in the thick of that bog of shit, I didn’t have time to do anything but focus on the next step in front of me, and the next, and the next, until I got to the other side, where I am now. The house that burned down? I fucking put it back together my own self after the contractor ditched the project before finishing it, then I sold it and rolled that money into another house nearby, so that now my mortgage is so low I could afford to pay it even if I became a quadriplegic rolling around in a tongue-operated wheelchair.
And I’d love to be all kumbaya and let bygones be bygones with the bionic pricks who made this journey so difficult, but I’m a writer, a memoirist and a humorist. I mine my experience for material. I am the scorpion on the frog’s back. But remember, sometimes the frog is a fucking asshole and needs to be stung. That’s me. I sting. What the fuck did these people think would happen? Did they seriously think I would just brush it off and move on? Fuck no. This all may be in my rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to look at. I get the adage that it’s not healthy to live in the past. But it’s not a universal adage. Like what about unsolved murder mysteries, for example? What about the victims of Bill Cosby and Jerry Sandusky? Were they supposed to just “move on” and “let it go?” First of all, when people tell you to “let it go,” they often mean “hold it in.” It’s not healthy to hold things in. So don’t let it go – let it OUT.
But a year ago everything reached what I tell my writing students is the “all is lost” moment in the story. My house had burned down, the contractor bolted before finishing the repairs, I’d paid out everything I had to other contractors to pick up the slack, I was overdrawn in all my accounts while awaiting reimbursement from the insurance company, and my best friend, Grant Henry, took this time to behave like a bleeding bag of dog shit toward me.
The first thing he did, of course, during the thick of it, when I was literally having a fire sale on my neighbor’s front lawn, was to jump into his car, race to my place, and drive by without stopping so he could later make fun of me about how the sight of me working so hard to save my home reminded him of an exhausted Dust Bowl worker. Later when we met for one of our regular morning coffees, I asked him why he didn’t stop to say Hi at least. He told me it was because I looked like I had everything under control.
Okay, perhaps you are like me, and when your life is falling down around you in giant, chunky fucking fireballs of shit, you’re gonna be really good at looking like you have everything under control. And perhaps you even actually do have everything under control, but maybe it’s taking every molecule of the fiber of your fucking sanity, which means it would be really cocksucking awesome if your filthy-rich best friend – who got that way with your help – if your filthy-rich best friend actually maybe stopped to offer help, or support, or just to say hello, rather than continue on without stopping, and then later at coffee make fun of you for being old and exhausted and hard working. I mean, of course I looked like I had everything under control. I am the goddam master of looking like I have everything under control, that’s just me. Maybe you’re like me.
And to those friends who are contacting me now to apologize for not knowing I was going through such a hard time. To you I say: Please understand the reason you didn’t know is because I did my best to keep you from knowing. That’s how we roll, us masters of looking like we have everything under control. My best friend of 20 years, though, he knew exactly the hard time I was having. He should have stopped. He should have helped. He should have done anything other than what he did.
But first let’s talk about hindsight, and the clarity therein. Of course, looking back, I can see what a volcanic asshole Grant Henry was. I mean, there were clues. For example, the year I met him he had a dog named Ellie Mae. A perfectly healthy, loving not-that-old dog, and he just gave her away one day, as in, “Here, you take her. I’ll be close by in my new house not giving a shit.” A few years later he adopted another dog and did the same thing. And recently he did this a third time.
By this time I had two dogs of my own – two dumpster mutts I’d adopted as puppies. They were two insufferable, misbehaving, ugly, loveable, sweet, loving beasts who drove me crazy but I would sooner rip out my own kidney than give them away. A dog is just a wonderful, fur-covered love-drunk ball of pure devotion that lives and breathes to do one thing all day and one thing only; to adore and worship your idiot, worthless ass. You are the luckiest fucker in the world to ever be the recipient of this kind of unconditional love and affection. And to just give this dog away? How could you adopt a dog just to turn around and give it away after a few years? But Grant had no problem giving away things that were devoted to him.
So there was that.
Then there was the time he entered into a business deal with me and Daniel Troppy. He gathered us at North Highland Pub to tell us of an incredible opportunity to buy a house around the corner from him for just $15,000. We were each to put up a third of the sum and flip the place at a profit within a week. We agreed on this. We shook on this. But a few days later Grant was nowhere, wouldn’t return our calls, and when we did see him and asked about our deal, he simply smiled and changed the subject. Turned out someone richer had come along, and Grant didn’t blink before clamoring over the corpse of his own decency to grab at that fatter wallet. I immediately forgave him – I just didn’t take shit like this very personally back then – but I wasn’t self-employed then, Daniel was, and Daniel was the first to fall from Grant’s flock.
Then there was the birthday debacle. But let me get this straight: I don’t give a crusty fuck about my birthday. I wouldn’t even remember it myself if not for people like my little sister, who insist on making a big deal out of birthdays. That said, though, if you volunteer to make a big deal out of someone’s birthday, and beforehand you are saying you’re going to make a big deal out of it, then that creates an expectation, right?
So when Grant broadcast on Facebook he planned to attend a charity event I was hosting because the event fell on my birthday, that meant he created an expectation that beforehand hadn’t existed, get it? So when I asked him where the hell he was when the night came and went without him showing up or even calling to explain his absence, and he said, “I just said I’d be there to boost your attendance with people coming to see me,” it was a dick move. Then later, (before or) after the rape-van parade float debacle, he took me to lunch to, again, “make up for it.” He sat across from me in a booth at Fontaine’s next to a brightly gift-wrapped package. I remember the curly ribbon creeping out over the top of the department store bag like the legs of a big, clown tarantula. He never indicated or mentioned the gift the entire lunch. Then as we gathered to leave and he kissed me goodbye, I finally said, “Grant, what’s with the gift?”
“Oh, that’s not for you,” and said, and he picked it up and left.
See? Going into that birthday, I had no expectations whatso-fucking-EVER, but then Grant goes and creates all these expectations and now look what a demanding bitch I am for thinking he meant what he said.
Last year during the “all is lost” point, my car broke down in one of the busiest intersections of Midtown, during rush hour (of course, does shit like this ever happen any other time?). I called Grant and he said he’d pick me up. I remember wondering which of his five cars I should expect to see him in – for example, would it be the Rolls Royce he called his “Hot Buttered Rolls?” – when I saw him pull up in his shiny new, giant fuck-you SUV with the safari lights and front grate (it must have been rhino season in Midtown Atlanta that day). Yes, there was Grant, window down as he pulled up, cellphone out, filming me stranded next to my broken-down car at a busy intersection during rush hour so he could make fun of me on Facebook.
And you know what? In the past this might have been funny. Because in the past I wasn’t frantically trying to keep from getting sucked to the bottom of a bog of shit. But this wasn’t the past, and I was up to my eyeballs in the bog, and Grant was not only safe on the other side, but he got there by stepping on my back, and there he was surrounded by a million life lines, do you think he tossed me one? Fuck no.
That we went to the Righteous Room. We sat at one of the outside tables. By this time Grant was the ordained master of getting media attention and I, my peeps, was not. I was the media, right? I knew how to be the media, I just didn’t know how to get media. Anyway, I’d accomplished a lot with my writing school and I did what I could to bring awareness to the problem of child trafficking in Atlanta, and I’d started the city’s first Sunday Comedy Brunch that was hugely popular, but you didn’t read a word about any of this except for this piece by Rodney Ho (thank you, Rodney!), and here’s why: Journalists live by a weird credo in that they never write about their friends, and they especially never write about that friend if that friend was another writer. (Me, I’m a humorist, not a journalist, fuck credos.)
This is not to say I didn’t get local coverage when my first book came out and did so well. I did. Take this piece that appeared in Creative Loafing. It was written by my editor at the time, who has became my friend. But notice that most of it is transcribed from a taped conversation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a marvelous piece, and today it clearly busts Grant Henry for refusing to honor his part of our pledge to “catapult each other into greatness,” but do you see how, by wisely putting the piece in this format, the writer can’t be accused of blatant self-promotion for perhaps having a stake in this friend’s success?
Journalists – real ones, not the lone, masturbating bags of bacon fat pooping out blogs from their mothers’ basement – are very sensitive about appearing to benefit from whatever media coverage they provide. Even Atlanta magazine, when they did a piece on my book, it was not an article about me the writer, it was an excerpt of my book (which, seriously, thank you!). This is why it’s often a lot easier for a writer to get coverage at a national level than at the local level. Because locally, the writer is bound to be friends with the people in the media poised to cover her, but then they don’t cover her because she’s their friend.
That is the conundrum faced by writers and the local media.
Now if you are not a writer, but a local character made famous by a local writer, that is a different fucking story. Evidently this is the magic formula, because my friends in the media loved to cover anything Grant did, and I suspect they somehow thought they were indirectly helping me out by doing that. Many writers and probably my own editors thought I had a stake in CHURCH bar, because why wouldn’t they think my best friend let me share in the success I helped him build? It was just logical, but sadly not factual.
Anyway, the local media loved Grant so much he did not even have to actually do anything, all he had to do was think about doing something, and it was news. Consider all that media flurry spurred when all Grant did was think about buying a building in Ansley Park. He did not buy the building, did not take the first step toward buying the building, he just wrote some stupid ditty on Facebook wondering if he should buy it, and boom!, news. I swear to fucking God.
And Grant played the media like a piano. Take the “Hate Crime” incident of 2012, when someone threw a brick through the front window at CHURCH bar. Jesus Christ on the cross, you would have thought ISIS flew here from Syria to attack Edgewood Ave. It seemed like every possible media venue in the city wrote about “the hate crime,” and in almost every piece Grant Henry’s being quoted as saying, “The police told me it was a hate crime.” The fact is Grant knew exactly who had smashed in his window. He had surveillance footage, for chrissakes. It wasn’t a hate crime, it was a homeless man Grant had threatened with a baseball bat the night before for coming within 20 feet of his bar. So, again, NOT A HATE CRIME, but boy did Grant allow the media to think so, and he put a saddle on that and rode it as far as it could take him.
So let’s go back to that night when my car broke down and Grant magnanimously rushed right over to film my humiliation for Facebook purposes. That night we went to the Righteous Room. We sat outside, and he advised me that I should call one of the editors I knew to talk about getting coverage for all the great things I’d been doing lately. Of course I brushed it off, knowing I’d be the last thing they’d cover. But Grant kept insisting.
“Call Suzanne right now,” he insisted. Suzanne is my former editor at Creative Loafing who now works at the AJC, and is a good friend. “Do it,” he demanded.
So I did it, I called her. It went straight to voice mail.
At that point, Grant took out his own phone, dialed Suzanne’s number, and she picked up on the first ring. Now I want to stop here to explain that this shows how off-my-game I was to have fallen for this trick. Grant liked to play it on me often; have me call an old friend in the media only to have my call go straight to voicemail, then immediately dial this person himself to show they’d pick up for him. It’s kind of a vicious thing to do to a person. Anyway, my point is twofold:
- Obviously Grant did not need me to be his media wonk anymore. He had the media in his greasy freckled palm. He’d get them flocking to his CHURCH bar at the flick of his finger to cover any idiotic thing he wanted. (New dildo strapped to the crotch of a nun rotating from the ceiling? Alert the media!) News camera’s constantly followed him around while he Jedi-mind-fucked them with his “message,” which basically boiled down to, “Fuck fear, tip big and buy this piece of shit I call art.”
- I myself was on the opposite end of the spectrum, and discovered I did not need the media. I just trudged away with what I was doing until it became viable on its own. I’ve never had a single article written about my writers academy, but because of blogging, social media and the fact that I am fucking awesome at what I do — not to mention that my students are awesome – the business grew to the point where it’s a self-generating engine and I don’t give a single crusty fuck if I’m recognized for it in the media or not. That right there, people, is freedom.
But that night at the Righteous Room? I was drowning in the bog, remember? Zero bank balance. Car broke down. House burned down. Rich-ass best friend being a selfish diabetic piece of dog shit on a stick. That is the night before the final straw. And sometimes the final straw is not a straw, but a fucking redwood thrown on top of other fucking redwoods. But when stuff like this is thrown on your back day after day, year after year, you know what happens? Your back gets stronger. Stronger than you ever fucking realized.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next episode! In the meantime, yes I am going there, below is a button you can use to tip me if you liked this installment. All proceeds will go to the publishing of this book and/or my evil plan to take over the world. THANK YOU!